By Meg Barone
No, that wasn't one of the words that a students was challenged to spell correctly at the annual townwide Fairfield Spelling Bee on Wednesday night at Roger Ludlowe Middle School. It was the word organizers used to characterize the 32nd annual bee won by 10-year-old Holland Hill School fifth-grader Gabriella Fabrizi.
And she won by spelling correctly a word that would not win favor with bees, of the winged sort: insecticide.
The fierce competition took the most rounds before a winner was declared -- 18, compared to the average 12 in years past. It also was the longest bee -- one father even asked from the audience if he could get his child from the stage and go home. "It's 10 o'clock," he said, moments after Gabriella was declared the winner, mindful that it was a school night. And it was the first time there was a tie for third place, according to Cheryl Eustace, a co-president, along with Jen Hinkle, of the Junior Women's Club of Fairfield. The JWC and Fairfield University's Bellarmine Museum of Art sponsored the event.
The spelling bee started with 40 fifth-graders from 11 local elementary schools. The announcers challenged competitors to spell words like schedule, bacteria, imagine, horizon, mysterious, indulgence, ingredient and rhythm. Four students were stung by the bee in the opening round. By the end of round three, 24 youngsters remained. They mastered words like magnificent, illustrate, preparation and technician, but got tripped up by words like theory, rhinoceros, caffeine and etiquette.
"It's amazing that these kids are here with just their brains and the letters and words swirling around their heads. No apps to rely on. No screens to touch. I'm just excited that kids like words," said Randy Spartachino, the father of Ava Spartachino, 11, of North Stratfield School.
Ava had the distinction of being the only competitor eliminated even after spelling a word correctly. When given the word "coexist" Ava recited each letter correctly, but added a hyphen between "co" and "exist." That sent the judges to the Webster Collegiate Dictionary, the official resource for the bee. The dictionary spelling does not include a hyphen, so her spelling was declared incorrect.
"More than anything it's an honor to be selected and participate," said Deanna Spartachino, Ava's mother, who added that her daughter had been relaxed about competing in the bee.
Not so for some of the other competitors in the moments before the competition began, including Gabriella. She sat on stage, one leg crossed over the other, wiggling her foot. "I was really nervous," she said later.
At one point in the later rounds, when only Gabriella and Jasmine Conley of Roger Sherman School were left, Hinkle had to confer with the three judges. When she returned to the podium she told the two finalists, "You are so good we're afraid we're going to run out of words."
Seven words later Hinkle declared, "Unprecedented. That's not the word. We're just so impressed."
In the final rounds, Gabriella and Jasmine correctly spelled words like eloquent, exuberant, ambidextrous and labyrinth. Both girls stumbled on grandeur, continuously, penicillin and belligerent, which pushed the competition into additional rounds.
Jasmine then misspelled the word seethe, which Gabriella spelled correctly -- opening the door for he to claim the title with her correct spelling of insecticide.
If there was an award for sportsmanship in the spelling bee it would probably go to Varun Shetty, 10, of Holland Hill School and Jack Davis, 10, of Stratfield School, who shared third place honors with Aaron Pleasure-Kranowitz, 11, of Riverfield School. As Shetty and Davis crossed paths in each round -- one heading to the microphone, one heading back to his seat -- they offered each other a high five. The two competitors had met just before the bee, but cheered each other on throughout the competition.
And Jasmine did not seem disappointed by her second-place finish. "I'm just really glad I got this far," she said.